How to Make the Most of Hackathons?
There are several hackathons on a wide variety of subjects every week. As a new person in the hackathon atmosphere, it could be quite overwhelming to attend a hackathon. In this article, I will summarize some of the things that I learned over the past few years by attending & organizing hackathons.
🎯 Set a Goal
To make the most of a hackathon, the most significant task is to come up with what we want to gain out of the hackathon. It could be something basic like building an application or specific like building an initial prototype for our next startup idea. To assist with setting a goal, it would be helpful to go through the hackathon website looking at their challenges, sponsors & focus areas.
Some examples of goals:
- Work with a specific language or framework.
- Solve some problem that can help us. This could be linked to our everyday work or life.
- Learn more about a new technology that we are curious about.
- Working on a specific challenge offered at the hackathon.
Hackathons are a great place to meet interesting people. We can find people who share similar interests to ours & also people who can complement our skills. Networking with sponsors may also help us to gain potential internships or jobs.
Talking to people that we meet might not be easy, but it will improve over time. When starting out attending events, it might help to set small goals like talking to 10 new people at an event. Another suggestion would be to join the side events held during the hackathon. There are often workshops teaching some technology or frameworks, fun events like karaoke, puzzles, etc. You will meet new people over the event in these gatherings. Over time, networking can improve our confidence in talking to people.
🤝 Team Formation
In hackathons, we work in small teams with typical sizes varying between 2 & 5. Having a team with complementary skills generally helps. But, even otherwise, we can have a good event with a group of people aligned towards a common goal.
A good way to join or found a team is to listen to the ideas that get shared by the participants at the start of the hackathon. Even if we don't know how to solve a problem, it makes sense to pitch the problem as someone else could be interested in solving the problem together.
⏳ Focus on the MVP
At the beginning of the hackathon, after forming a team, try to envision what would be the perfect showcase for our solution. And with the showcase in mind, try to reduce the uncertainties as soon as possible. Once the uncertainties get reduced, the known parts could be combined. Try to use readily available solutions for the hackathon such as cloud services, open-source software, etc. They can save a lot of time & effort for the showcase. When faced with a shortage of time, try to reduce the common components like login that might not be key to your showcase.
During the hackathon, it would also make sense to take some videos of the demo which can, later on, be added to the project submission page & your portfolio. Additionally, the demo can be hosted somewhere like Heroku or Github Pages to be accessible after the hackathon.
😴 Take Breaks
Hackathons are known to be a place where the participants work non stop for 24-48 hours over the weekend. But, this is not necessary & unrecommended. Always ensure that you take proper breaks & try to get at least a few hours of sleep. The rested mind and body is much more effective than functioning non-stop.
🎉 Have Fun
The most important part of the hackathon is to not be too stressed about the project & to have fun. Take a look at the other projects that are being submitted & talk to the teams to learn more about how they built their projects. This could even serve as inspiration for future projects.
I hope that you learnt something useful about participating in hackathons & will try this at your next hackathon.
Let me know if you have any other suggestions.